24 Nov Why Website Maintenance Is Important
We all know that regular maintenance is required to keep your vehicle in top condition. Whether you own a car, SUV, truck or van, bad things eventually happen if you don’t schedule a maintenance check. Your vehicle’s performance suffers, then it starts breaking down – always at the most inconvenient times.
The same is true for your business’s website. Only unlike your vehicle, signs of trouble aren’t always obvious. Instead of stalling or overheating, a neglected website is more likely to slow down while loading, experience broken links and become vulnerable to hackers looking for an opportunity to steal data or launch a malicious attack. Just like a car in need of repair won’t get you where you want to go, a website that’s behind on needed updates and adjustments won’t get you the leads and business you want – and can even cost you existing customers! So before we wear out this analogy, we’ll look at the reasons why website maintenance is important – and the best practices you need to follow!
Every Website Needs Regular Maintenance
You may think that maintenance isn’t worth the expense because your business is small and brick-and-mortar rather than e-commerce. Wrong! Regular maintenance helps improve SEO and search engine page rankings. Keep in mind that the vast majority of consumers conduct searches for businesses online. The higher in the SERPs you are, the more likely potential customers will find your business before those of your competitors.
Now, consider the experience those potential customers will have once they’ve found your website. Will they encounter excruciatingly slow load times, page not found errors (404 errors) or template files that don’t display accurately on mobile devices and new versions of web browsers?
Even worse is if – instead of your site’s home page – the first (and only) thing they see is an SSL certificate error. This occurs when the browser cannot verify the SSL certificates returned by the server. When the error happens, the browser blocks the website and warns the user that the website cannot be trusted. The screen is scary enough to make visitors immediately back off.
If visitors suffer any of these unpleasant situations, they’re likely to quickly bounce from your website to those of your competitors! Even worse, you’ll have no way of knowing how much business you lost because you didn’t invest in website maintenance.
Website Maintenance Tasks You Need to Perform
Writing for HostGator, content marketer Kristen Hicks provides a guide to website maintenance that recommends starting with an annual usability test to determine how intuitive your site is to users. Any impediments to easy use and navigation negatively impact the user experience (UX), which can cost you conversions.
Says Hicks: “Bring in people that aren’t associated with your business or brand who can give fresh eyes to browsing your website. Make sure your testing includes all browsers and device types visitors may use so you get the full picture.”
The following list consists of tasks that should be performed on a monthly or annual basis:
- Run backups often (time them to run daily after-hours if the website gets updated daily).
- Update contact forms and captchas.
- Update security settings.
- Resubmit sitemaps.
- Delete spam emails.
- Fix broken links.
- Run a speed test and perform fixes. Our blog post – “Handy Tools to Get Your Website Up-to-Speed” – provides instructions and links to free testing tools.
- Update plugins. Note to WordPress users – let the developers release any bug patches before updating. Also give them time to be compatible with your theme so nothing gets broken. You can always revert to the previous version if you run into issues.
- Optimize databases.
- Clean out old post revisions.
- Purge cache.
- Compress images.
Four Main Areas That Need Attention in Website Maintenance
Paying attention to the following areas will benefit your potential customers and your business:
Software updates – As SeeThrough Web notes, “Most websites today – even though they are easy to edit – are complex software applications. Just like the operating system on your computer, they need to be kept up to date for security and performance reasons. In WordPress websites, this means regularly updating the core software as well as any plugins and themes (there is generally at least one official WordPress update every month). When doing so, always perform a backup first. That way, if there’s a hiccup, you can roll back to a working site version.”
Security – As previously mentioned, the need for a secure website is front-and-center. Ransomware attacks, data breaches and other malicious activities reinforce the need to make sure your website complies with current security measures and updates. You lose more than user data if your website is hacked – you also lose your company’s reputation and credibility while exposing users to identity theft and other types of cybercrime that can negatively impact them for many years.
Backup files – As a Flowmatters article observes, “One of the primary actions of a website maintenance team is to backup all the files. This can be done in two ways: manual backup or automatic backup. If you are not backing up your files, malware attacks might happen. Imagine having to rebuild your website all over again because you missed this step. For simple, informational websites we recommend a monthly backup. However, if you own a more complex website with dynamic content and images that are changing constantly such as an eCommerce website, then you might consider backing it up more frequently.”
Keeping up to speed – For those with just a passing acquaintance of tech-speak, site speed refers to the page speed for a sample of page views on a website. It is different from page speed – also known as page load time (the time it takes to fully display the content of a page) – or time to first byte (how long it takes a browser to receive the first byte of information from the web server). Why is this important? Because Google may be measuring time to first byte when it considers page speed – and, in turn, your website’s page rankings. Google has indicated that site speed is one of the signals its algorithm uses to rank pages.
Even more relevant is the finding that the average visitor will only tolerate a load time of up to two seconds before moving on to another site. Google’s engineers have found that potential customers will visit a site less often if it’s slower than that of a close competitor’s by more than 250 milliseconds. Yes, you read that right – milliseconds. Among their other discoveries: even 400 milliseconds – literally the blink of an eye – is too long for website visitors to wait for a page to load! So perform the necessary fine-tuning of your website’s speed on a regular basis, or expect to fall behind.
The Take-Home Message and Our Blatant Self-Promotion
Establishing a website maintenance schedule and sticking to it will not only ensure your website is running at peak performance, but will give it every advantage of being a lean, mean lead generation machine – or a fast, efficient means of driving traffic to your brick-and-mortar location! If you’d rather leave this sort of work to the pros, Virtual Stacks Systems offers website design, website redesign and regular maintenance – as well as many other services. Contact us to learn more.